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How long does it take to know somebody that well?

CONTENT WARNING: nothing offensive here
KEYWORDS: 3rd person POV, UST
DISCLAIMER: Not mine; they belong to CC, FOX, etc.

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As I reach the end of the comics page, I sigh and stretch, checking my watch again. I'm not terribly interested in the paper, but reading it gives me something to do. I finished my breakfast a while ago, and now I'm just killing time. It's only a little after 7:30, and there's really no point in returning to my room before 8:00. I know that Chuck will be exactly where I left him, sprawled across the bed and snoring loudly.

Now, I love my husband dearly, but until we got married, I never realized how difficult it would be to get accustomed to his sleeping habits. I've always been a morning person, and I can accept the fact that he isn't, but I never knew what a bear he could be if I tried to wake him before he's ready to get up. He prefers 9:00 when he's on vacation, but as a concession to me, he's getting up at 8:00 this week. So much for the early bird getting the worm.

Since we didn't have much of a honeymoon, we decided to go to Disneyworld for our first anniversary. Which is why I'm currently sitting in the dining area of a budget hotel in Kissimmee, Florida, killing time.

The hotel is peopled mostly with tourists, like us, here to visit the amusement parks. Unlike my husband, most of them seem to realize that the earlier you get out the door in the morning, the more pleasant the weather and the thinner the crowds. I set the paper aside and people watch as the small dining area continues to fill with families and couples milling around the continental breakfast offerings, like bees buzzing through a field of flowers. They flit here and there, loading up with cereal, bagels, fruit, coffee. One woman is juggling a fussy infant while her husband is juggling both of their plates, and I idly wonder how soon that might be us.

As my thoughts and my eyes drift, I suddenly recognize the disparity in what my gaze has settled on. Amidst the families in tacky shirts and colorful shorts, there is a well-manicured couple dressed in expensive suits. The man is tall, with brown hair, and the woman is a head shorter, her hair a flaming red. I thought of dying my hair that color once, but I decided it wouldn't work with my complexion. But it certainly works on her.

My best guess is that these two are here for a professional convention, since I've heard that the Disney hotels often host events like that. But, for the life of me, I can't figure why they're staying all the way out here in a budget hotel. With the way they dress, you'd figure they could afford something better. Although, if they're anything like my husband and me, that might explain it. Chuck's the one who insisted on booking this hotel, declaring that we could afford more park passes with the money we saved. But really, the money will end up going toward the new fall wardrobe that I'm just dying to buy as soon as we get home, along with a few new clothes for my husband since he refuses to set foot in a department store.

I watch with interest as the two make short work of the breakfast options, apparently choosing to divide and conquer. The woman has busied herself at the coffee pots, filling two Styrofoam cups and measuring precise amounts sugar and cream into each. She leaves the stir stick in one, which I can only guess serves to distinguish the two cups. In the meantime, the man has been loading up two plates with a selection of fruit and breads. Unlike her, he makes no distinction which is which, piling things haphazardly, so I suppose that he'll divide them up once they're seated. They manage to finish their tasks and meet up at the same time, just like clockwork. I start to wonder just how many times they've gone through this ritual before.

As they scan the room looking for a place to sit, their eyes seem to gravitate toward me, and I realize that I'm staring. I quickly avert my eyes, hoping they don't know how long I've been watching them. Only now do I recognize that all the tables have filled up, and here I am hogging a table for four all to myself. I look back over and see them quietly debating, probably trying to decide whether to go back to their room, or wondering whether I'm about ready to leave since I'm obviously done eating. I look at my watch again. I still have another 15 minutes before I can wake Chuck, and frankly, I'm in no hurry to sit there and listen to him snore. But, there are three chairs here that I'm not using. As I look up and see the man glancing in my direction again, I catch his attention and gesture for them to come over. They probably think I'm going to leave, but I hope they don't mind if I linger for a few more minutes.

The couple comes over, and they take their seats, exchanging courteous smiles with me. I don't say anything but bury my nose in the newspaper, trying to look so engrossed with the story in front of me that I just can't bring myself to put it down yet. But as they start to distribute their goodies, I can't help but watch in fascination. They function smoothly and with no conversation. This is obviously second nature to them.

The woman has set a cup of coffee in front of them each, while the man has set the plate filled with fruit in front of himself and the other plate in front of her. But what they do next is what fascinates me the most. He picks up an orange and starts to peel it, while she picks up a bagel, slices it in two, and starts to spread the cream cheese. On one half, she spreads it very thinly, so thin that I wonder if it can actually be tasted, and on the other half she generously piles on the remainder of the small container. The latter half is set down on the plate in front of her companion, while she keeps the first half for herself. As she finishes this, the man is now done peeling the orange, and he pops one slice in his mouth before placing the majority of it on the plate in front of her.

I'm startled as they begin talking, and I realize once again with embarrassment that I've been staring at them.

"Did you get a hold of your mom?" He then pops a grape in his mouth before pulling apart the rest of the bunch and placing the bulk of it on her plate.

"I didn't want to bother her this early. I'll probably call her at lunchtime." She moves the lone Danish from her plate to his, and I see that they seem to have completely redistributed the food into two distinct servings, her selection looking much healthier than his.

"I take it that her message wasn't too urgent, then." He reaches over and grabs a stray grape from her plate.

"No, she's probably just calling about mass on Sunday." She peels off the lid to her cup of yogurt as he wordlessly hands her a plastic spoon.

In that small gesture, I suddenly see a flash of my parents sitting at the breakfast table, Mom handing Dad a spoon just as he realizes he needs it. Growing up in that environment where my parents seemed to understand each other so intuitively and function together like well-choreographed dance partners, I always took for granted that that's what marriage looks like. But Chuck and I aren't anything like that. We're still so awkward with each other sometimes, and I wonder when my roommate will become the Fred to my Ginger. This couple has captured that rhythm, and I suddenly have to know just how long it takes to get to that point.

"How long have you two been married?"

I can't believe I just blurted it out like that. No preamble. I haven't even introduced myself. I start stumbling all over myself trying to make up for my tactlessness.

"I'm sorry to pry. It's just that you two seem so comfortable with each other, and my husband and I, we've only been married a year, and we're not like that at all, and I just want to know how long it takes to really know each other as well as you two obviously do."

The woman's not even looking at me anymore, and I realize I've really embarrassed them. But the man doesn't seem offended. In fact, he looks like he's trying not to smile, and I'm not sure if he's amused with my question or with her reaction. I'm about to apologize and make a quick exit, but he saves me.

"Uh, we're not married, actually. We just work together. We're partners."

Oh, God, now I'm mortified. I've really stuck my foot in my mouth this time. I've completely misunderstood the situation, and now I just don't know what to say. The woman is still not looking in my direction. She's eating again and seems to be ignoring the conversation. At least the man seems at ease with it all. But I'm not. I have to get out of here, so I look at my watch, although I don't even register what time it says. I'm just trying to preface my exit with the excuse that it's time for me to go.

"But to answer your question, seven years."

"What?" I'm surprised he's still willing to talk to me, so I don't immediately understand the point he's making.

"You were wondering how long we've been together--seven years." He pauses, playing with the stir stick in his coffee, and at first I think that's the end of the conversation. Then he speaks again. "I'm not much of an expert on relationships, but--"

His partner makes a small choking noise, and we both look over at her. I can't see her mouth behind her hand, but I get the impression that she's laughing at him. He must not be concerned that she's actually choking because he ignores her and turns back to me.

"But, I know that it certainly took us more than a year to establish a rhythm. I think that eventually we just came to appreciate our differences and play to each other's strengths. I imagine marriage isn't too different."

"Thanks." I smile my gratitude at him, for forgiving my presumption and for giving me something to think about. I'm sure it's after 8:00 by now, and I've definitely overstayed my welcome. It's time to let this pair continue their breakfast in peace. "Speaking of differences, it's time for me to go wake up my husband."

I push my chair back and gather up my garbage. I really should apologize to them before I leave, but somehow I'm not sure how to do that without shoving my foot further into my mouth, and I already feel like I'm gagging on it. So I stick with something safe.

"I hope you have a nice day."

"Say hi to Mickey for me." The man and I share a polite smile with each other in farewell, his partner looking up briefly to give me a tight smile of her own. I don't think she likes me very much, but I guess I didn't endear myself to her. For all I know, she took offense at my presumption because she has a husband back at home. But somehow, I don't think so. There's just something about these two that's so...domestic.

I'm finally on my way out of the room and out of their lives (I think I'll breakfast up in our room tomorrow, just in case), but on my way to the garbage can, I can't stop myself from eavesdropping on their quiet conversation in my wake.

"Mulder, do we really look like an old married couple?"

"Must be that ball and chain you have strapped to my ankle."

"I always knew you were into bondage."

I quickly head for the elevators before they can hear me snickering. Maybe I wasn't so far off base about them after all.


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